Thursday, November 01, 2001

The Oyler case

Chilling testimony from child

        The accused wore a Mickey Mouse sweat shirt.

        A couple of yawns. A sigh. Boredom? Maybe she was sleepy, having trouble paying attention. Even though this was not just a trip to the principal's office for detention. An attorney holds a copy of her sworn statement. The handwriting is loopy and childish. Which makes sense.

        She is a child.

        But the crime is no less terrible. This is why four children were in Juvenile Court this week instead of scraping gum off the bottom of desks or whatever they do these days when you get in trouble at school.

Lipstick marks

        All of the girls, by the way, have beautiful names I cannot tell you because they are too young. But they are names I can imagine parents choosing carefully, liking the sound, the way they look in print. I can't imagine how they feel on this day, seeing their children on trial.

        This is the Oyler case, elementary students accused of pouring drain cleaner into a teacher's water bottle last May. One girl said they picked the bottle with lipstick on it, sure the teacher would take another sip. Luckily when Nancy Wyenandt, picked up the bottle, it felt warm. So she put it into a refrigerator.

        On the witness stand, Ms. Wyenandt struggles to answer the attorneys' questions. Any previous problems with the girls? “I thought I had a good rapport with all my students,” she says. “I just would never have thought something like this would happen.”

        Some things she simply can't remember. Not exactly. Who went into the girls' restroom and when? And where was she standing? Exactly. She can't recall the details. It was six months ago, the same as any other of the 191 days of school. Finally she says helplessly, “It was just a normal day.”

Deadly brew

        The prosecutor lifts a blue plastic bottle out of an evidence bag. The bottle is inside yet another evidence bag, which has been partially eaten away by the contents of the bottle and is now wrapped in a brown garbage bag. Scram, it's called. The label says, “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed.” Even if you can't read, there's a skull and crossbones.

        Hamilton County coroner's office toxicologist John Walker tested infinitesimal amounts, using instruments. Straight out of the bottle, the cleaner would burn. “It would totally destroy the esophagus.”

        One of the mothers in the courtroom cringed. Her daughter did not.

        Monday, one of the girls, who agreed to plead guilty to the first-degree felony charge, testified against the others, chilling accusations. One poured the drain cleaner. Another girl held the lipsticked water bottle. A third acted as lookout, ready to clap her hands if the teacher approached. Charges against the fourth girl were dropped.

        The first child, who has yet to be sentenced, could be incarcerated until she is 21. Trial for the remaining two defendants will continue Nov. 14. If convicted, they too might lose their freedom until they are 21.

        One of the girls told a friend that she prays “God will do what's best for me.” If she is guilty of this crime, her prayer may be answered. Juvenile Court is still the place where there's hope we can teach children to be better adults.

        Meanwhile, Ms. Wyenandt should be free to teach reading and social studies without looking over her shoulder. And free to assume it will be a normal day.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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